Since ages, atrocities against women in various forms have been an integral part of our civilization. India has been home to some of the most barbaric acts, starting from dowry deaths and sati to female infanticide and foeticide. This social evil is deep rooted in Indian ethos and the most shocking fact that the innovative technologies are brutally killing the Indian girl child. Biopsy, ultrasound, scan tests and amniocentesis were introduced to identify any abnormalities, which soon became a tool for sex determination. In a gross misuse of the scientific tools, female foetuses were selectively aborted after pre-natal sex determinations. India declared the year 2007 as the ‘Awareness year of female foeticide’ and the ‘system deals strictly with those responsible for the crime’.
It is most alarming that the child sex ratio is far more skewed in land-rich and affluent states of Punjab, Haryana and also the National Capital, Region. According to the latest data available pertaining to births, the child sex ratio stood at a mere 775 females per 1000 males in Punjab. In fact, the steep rise in sex crimes in Delhi has also been attributed to the unequal sex ratio.
The girl child is discriminated and neglected at every stage of life for basic nutrition, education and living standard. During childhood, her brother is loaded with all comforts while she is gifted a broom. As child labourers, toiling in the heat of stone quarries, working in the field for long hours, picking rags in city streets or slashed away as domestic servants, many of these girls are sentenced to a life of misery, suffering and horrors.
Each year, roughly two million girls between the ages of 5 and 15 are trafficked, sold or coerced into the sex trade. Girls are also disproportionately affected by a number of harmful practices, including early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
The United Nations declared October 11, 2012 as the ‘World’s First International Day of the Girl Child’ to promote equal treatment and opportunities for girls around the world in areas such as law, nutrition, healthcare, education and freedom from violence and abuse.
Child marriage is a gross violation of all categories of child rights. UNICEF reported that 82% of all girls in Rajasthan are married before they are 18 years of age. 15% of girls in rural areas across the country are married before 13 years of age and a major 52% of girls have their first pregnancy between 15 and 19 years. Defying the law, hundreds of children tied the knot in Raigarh, 65 miles north-west of Bhopal in May 2005. According to some reports, hundreds of children, some even as young as 7 years old were married over a period of one week. Despite the existence of legislation banning child marriage since 1929, the practice continues to be a social reality in the present India.
Around the globe, girls are three time more likely to be malnourished than boys. Of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70% are girls. Girls continue to face obstacles in access to education and other basic services. Reports estimate that more than 50% of girls in India fail to enrol in school and those who do are likely to dropout by the age of 12.
Lack of education denies the girl child, the knowledge and skills needed to advance their status. In 1994, the Govt. of India passed a universal female education bill that offers parents incentives for access and punishment for keeping a girl out of school.
The United Nations declared November 10, 2012 as ‘Malala Day’ in honour of Pakistani teenage rights activist, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls education. This day saw a global event to show the world that people of all creed, all sexes, all backgrounds, and all countries stand behind Malala. The world to walk in the steps of this girl of courage, and future generations of girls could attend school, walk freely into a classroom, learn and reach their full potential.
Literacy for women is the single most important factor in reducing infant mortality. According to UNICEF, every additional year a mother spends at school is associated with 1% fall in child mortality. So, when you educate a man, you educate one person and when you educate a woman, you educate a complete family.
*The author is Senior Scientist, , National Environmental Engineering Research Institute(NEERI) Nagpur.